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124                                                                                                            B- POLEVOI
eaten, but I've never operated on a fellow like you." The
professor rubbed his hands; they were red and peeling
and the finger-nails were corroded. "What are you
scowling for? I praise him, but he scowls! I am a
lieutenant-general in the Medical Corps. I order you to
smile!"
Stretching his lips with difficulty into a vacant, rubber
smile, Meresyev thought: "If I knew it would end like
this, I wouldn't have taken the trouble to crawl. I had
three bullets left in my pistol."
In one of the newspapers the Commissar read a war
correspondent's description of an interesting battle. Six
of our fighter planes engaged twenty-two German planes,
brought down eight and lost only one. The Commissar
read this story with such zest that one would have thought
that it was not airmen he did not know, but his own
cavalrymen, that had distinguished themselves. Even
Kukushkin showed enthusiasm in the argument that
ensued, when each tried to picture how it had all hap-
pened. But Alexei lay and thought: "Lucky fellows, they
are flying and fighting, but I will never go up again."
The communiques of the Soviet Information Bureau
became more and more laconic. All the signs went to
show that somewhere in the rear of the Soviet Army a
mighty force was being mustered for another blow. The
Commissar and Stepan Ivanovich gravely discussed
where that blow would be struck and what effect it would
have upon the Germans. Only recently Alexei had led
conversations like that; now he tried not to listen to them.
He too sensed the approach of big developments of
gigantic and, perhaps, decisive battles. But the thought
that his comrades, probably even Kukushkin who was
rapidly recovering, would take part in those battles, while
he was doomed to vegetate in the rear, that nothing could
be done about it, was so bitter to him that when the
Commissar read the newspaper, or when a conversation
about the war commenced, Alexei covered his head with
his blanket and rubbed his cheeks on his pillow in order
not to see and not to hear. And for some reason the
familiar line from Maxim Gorky's Song of the Falcon
kept running through fci§ mind; "Those whg ar
to wep cawot fly,"